New York and San Francisco have long been compared for their insane costs of living, with San Francisco usually coming out on top. At the start of this year, San Francisco topped New York in median rent for a one-bedroom apartment ($3,490 vs. $3,280/month). This May, the recommended annual salary for San Franciscans to purchase a home in the city was $144,196, the highest in the country. Last summer, the median home price in San Francisco was $1.185 million, topping Manhattan by $230,000.
Less attention is given to what you’re actually getting for the money you pay in either city. So Curbed asked NeighborhoodX to compare the average price per square foot in various neighborhoods of both San Francisco and New York, showing where buyers get more bang for their buck. For New York, the analysis included co-op, condo and townhouse sales, with data supplied by NeighborhoodX's advisor Jonathan Miller, of MillerSamuel. For San Francisco, the analysis included all residential property types.
It’s worth mentioning that these price per square foot averages don’t tell the entire story of what it costs to live in any given neighborhood—each average includes everything from unrenovated apartments partially below ground to new development condos on top floors.
But the data is definitely illuminating. By opting to use price per square foot vs. the median listing price, you "get a granular comparison of two neighborhoods," according to Constantine Valhouli, the data scientist at NeighborhoodX. He explained: "In the cities we cover, there are a number of neighborhoods where the median listing price is identical, but the prices per square foot diverge wildly—and this gives us particular insight into the neighborhood. For example, there are neighborhoods of both NYC and LA where the median listing price is around $1.5 million—and in the NYC neighborhood, that purchases a compact two-bedroom apartment while it might purchase a hillside house in parts of LA."
Median listing price, he says, can also be skewed by the size of the properties on the market. If there are smaller apartments hitting the market, it’s likely to make listing prices look lower, and visa versa with larger apartments hitting the market.
So then what’s happening in San Francisco and New York, on a price per square foot basis? "There are a few ways to frame this," Valhouli explains. "On one hand, the same amount of money will likely buy more space in most neighborhoods of SF rather than NYC. Conversely, we could say that people are willing to pay more to live in a square foot of NYC rather than SF, for the most part." (The same might be said for rentals as well, where $6,000/month is more likely to rent you a home in SF, as opposed to a nice one bedroom in New York.)
The price per square foot to live in Greenwich Village, $2,270, is more than $1,000 higher than the price per square foot in Pacific Heights, $1,233. In fact, seven New York neighborhoods boast a higher price per square foot than Pacific Heights, despite it being SF’s most expensive neighborhood. SF neighborhoods like Nob Hill, SoMa, Noe Valley and Russian Hill then top Williamsburg, which has a price per square foot of $953. And it’s more expensive on a square footage basis to live in Greenpoint than Bernal Heights and the Outer Sunset.
Bed-Stuy, Inwood, and Crown Heights bottom out the rankings, with prices per square foot between $488 and $503. These more affordable neighborhoods of New York bring up an important distinction between the two cities. While New York does boast a high price per square foot in many neighborhoods, it still has the benefit of density that San Francisco does not. San Francisco is simply a less dense city, with less inventory, so its rapid price growth has more effectively pulled many city neighborhoods into a relatively narrow, expensive price range. "There aren't as many affordable neighborhoods there as there had been," Valhouli says. "By comparison, New York City is a larger city with a broader price range and still more opportunities at the more affordable end of the market."
A look at the full graph, below, or head right this way.